Sharon Wirth


Freshwater ecosystems need adequate streamflow to supply clean water for humans and maintain healthy habitat for wildlife. Overappropriation, overuse, climate change, and drought plague New Mexico’s rivers, taxing many rivers beyond sustainability. Despite the myriad of problems caused by little or no water in our rivers, policies and procedures to protect and increase streamflows in New Mexico are limited. While most Western states have made demonstrable progress in alleviating various legal and technical barriers to protecting and increasing streamflows, New Mexico has made only limited, recent progress towards solutions for our drying rivers. This article takes a critical look at the historical and current position of the Office of the State Engineer, the state’s authority for permitting and administering water rights, regarding instream flow rights. The article concludes with several recommendations to ease or eliminate concerns about the administration of rights to instream flows such that New Mexico’s rivers can be restored to better health and maintained for the benefit of current and future generations.



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